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<p>Gainesville-based Drag Queen Kelly T. Kelly leads a number in the second act of Kinky Boots at the Gainesville Community Playhouse on Friday, July 21, 2023. </p>

Gainesville-based Drag Queen Kelly T. Kelly leads a number in the second act of Kinky Boots at the Gainesville Community Playhouse on Friday, July 21, 2023. 

The sold-out crowd of more than 200 people laughed, cried and cheered during the opening night of “Kinky Boots” on Friday. 

The eclectic production will be running until Aug. 13 at the Gainesville Community Playhouse. 

Director Catherine Karow proposed the idea to put on the production more than a year ago but did not expect to run into some of the issues that arose. In May, SB 1438 placed restrictions on drag shows in Florida. The team was unsure of how they would continue on with the production. 

“When they asked me if I still wanted to go on with it, I said, ‘Absolutely we’re doing it,’” Karow said. “We have to do it even more.”

The cast sought counsel from several lawyers to ensure they will not face any legal trouble when holding the production. Since then, the enforcement of this law has been halted, and the show continued as originally planned. 

Karow was intentional with every decision she made, especially choosing her cast. She knew she wanted an actual drag queen to play the role of Lola and went to drag shows for months before Kelly T. Kelly accepted the role without any experience in theater. Kelly performs at Vecinos and University Club, where Karow scouted them. 

Lola has four dancers called “the Angels,” and two of the four are also drag queens. The professional drag queens taught the newcomers about the intricacies of drag makeup and helped them feel comfortable in their personas. 

When it came to a costume designer, it only felt natural to have her mother Libby join the team, Karow said. 

Libby Karow worked with her on other shows but said there was something special about this one. 

“I’ve never been in such a joyous group of people,” Libby Karow said. 

She worked on several shows before, but never experienced a group like this, or costumes like this, she said. Each piece was carefully curated, and the costumes on the angels in the closing scene left the audience member’s jaws on the ground. 

Her daughter helped her by ensuring the costumes were drag-appropriate instead of showgirl attire, a distinction she hadn’t dealt with before. In the past, she created pieces for shows such as Romeo and Juliet and a children’s ballet in Houston. Working in drag was something out of her wheelhouse. 

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Jonah Goolsby, the actor who plays Don, had never performed in a musical but became a fan favorite. 

“I almost walked out of the audition because I was terrified,” Goolsby said. 

One audience member said to the person sitting next to her that Don could walk in heels better than she could.

Representing an average man who is not comfortable with non-traditional gender roles, his character shows growth and acceptance throughout the play. Goolsby was incredibly grateful for his role, he said.

The cast and crew became a tight-knit bunch. Oliver Xu, the 12-year-old boy playing Little Simon, and Sabian Mance, the 11-year-old playing Little Charlie, did not know each other before the musical, but now they are like brothers, they said. 

Before each show, the cast, crew and some ushers do a group meditation to keep everyone calm and in line with one another. This ensures every cast member feels confident in themselves, creating a lively performance.

You can get tickets from the Gainesville Community Playhouse website. 

Contact Leia Ulrich at lulrich@alligator.org


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